There are several times during the year when the Church invites her people to fast. The most significant of these is the period before Easter. Many begin this fast on Ash Wednesday but some, particularly among those in religious orders, begin this fast at Septuagesima. The reason for these different periods of fasting is explained in BOOK VI of the RATIONAL DIVINORUM OFFICIORUM in the chapter The Sunday of Septuagesima.
The Prophet Elijah Receiving Bread and Water from an Angel
In another chapter of the same book, Ash Wednesday or the Principle of Fasts, we find the explanation of why we fast before Easter rather than after Epiphany. Now in fasting we are invited to imitate the fasting of Christ and Christ, immediately after His baptism, that is, after the Epiphany or manifestation, began His fast. So the question arises of why we fast in the period before Easter rather than at the same time as Christ, whose actions must be our instruction.
There are four reasons for this.
1. In Lent we represent the people of Israel, who spent forty years in the wilderness, and who immediately afterwards celebrated the Passover.
2. At the time of spring, men naturally experience in themselves the fermentation of disordered appetites, and it is to put a brake on it that fasting was instituted at this time.
3. Because the Resurrection follows the Passion of Christ it was therefore reasonable for our affliction to coincide with the Saviour’s Passion. For since He himself suffered for us, we must also suffer with Him, to reign with Him at last, so that our resurrection is the result of our passion or our penance, according to these words of the Apostle, ‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with him’. (2 Tim. 2:12) For the moment when the patient suffers the most is that of his convalescence.
4. Just as the children of Israel, before eating the paschal lamb, condemned themselves to suffering and ate wild lettuce, that is to say, bitter lettuce. We must condemn ourselves to suffering through the bitterness of penance, so that immediately afterwards we may eat with dignity the Lamb of Life, that is, the Body of Christ, to participate thus in the mystical sacraments of the new Passover.
Properly understood and embraced periods of fasting (of which there are several during the year) can contribute considerably to spiritual development.
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